“Wallis” Chic

I always suspect that a good amount of the appeal of the 1930’s fashion is the flaunting of elegance with chic, completely accessorized outfits.  I can’t think of a better face for this in the late 1930’s than the famous Wallis Simpson.  As she was already gracing every news headline in 1937 for her marriage to England’s former King Edward VIII, she became the woman that the most talented designers of the times jumped at to clothe…and boy did she ever wear the fashions!  She is quoted as saying, “My husband gave up everything for me. I’m not a beautiful woman. I’m nothing to look at, so the only thing I can do is dress better than anyone else.”  Whatever her reasons, she inspired my latest 1930’s outfit.  So many details of my outfit make this a very specific 1938 garment, with a heavy nod to ‘Wallis’ in my accessories. I’m not out to overdress, just dress “to the nines” in killer Tyrolean era, late 30’s style!

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Not only did I make the dress of this outfit, but I made the hat as well, and even broke out my prized 30’s gloves and vintage shoes to boot.  This is the kind of outfit I hate to take off!

Simplicity 1736, year 2012 hatsTHE FACTS:Hollywood 1647, year 1948, front cover-comp,w

FABRIC:  The dress – a 100% cotton print, with a selvedge marking of ‘“Nana’s Quilt” by Joan Pace Baker, Designs by Logantex’; the hat – a lofty and thick polyester felting

PATTERN:  Hollywood #1647, a Maureen O’Sullivan pattern from year 1938, for the dress and Simplicity #1736, year 2012 pattern, for my vintage-style hat

NOTIONS:  I had everything I needed on hand – buttons, ribbon, thread, and bias tape.  The buttons are authentic vintage from the stash of my Grandmother’s.DSC_0559a-comp,w

TIME TO COMPLETE:  My dress was made in about 10 hours and finished on May 14, 2017.  My hat was finished on May 19, 2017, in only 2 or 3 hours…easy-peasy!

THE INSIDES:  Half French seams and half bias bound (in red, too, for fun) on the dress while the hat is raw edged inside – it’s felt, after all.

TOTAL COST:  I’m counting this as free as the supplies were on hand and the fabric has been in my stash for so many years!

In the year 1937, Simpson made more than headlines, though.  She made fashion history Wallis' gown designed by Mainbocherin two dramatic ways – she wore the then shocking but now famous Schiaparelli-Dali “Lobster Dress” as well as sporting the “Wallis Blue” wedding gown designed by the Chicago-born designer Mainboucher.  Hollywood brand patterns were well known for imitating the rich and famous, bringing their styles to share with the masses, and there is a trickle-down effect which puts the newest fashion in the hands of those masses at a delayed time.  Thus, it makes sense for me to see details of Wallis Simpson’s influence in the Hollywood dress pattern I used to make my dress from the year afterwards – 1938.

Hollywood patterns that I see almost always stick with sweet princess styling, which can Hollywood 1647, year 1948, back cover-comp,crop,wbe complimentary in the way of thinning the body lines, yet overly youthful and conservative with Peter Pan collars and high necks.  Not for me – not with this dress!  Sure, there’s princess seaming to the front, but I changed up the neckline of the original pattern for an open, adult style, while the dress back (as designed) does have a very 40’s appearance (different from the front) with its darts and defined waist seam.  This is a dress which breaks both consistencies of the conventional Hollywood pattern!

I’m tickled at how I found a way to complement the original styling and make my dress more ‘grown-up’ and sophisticated by a mere change to the neckline.  A good friend of mine helped me realize one of the neckline shapes that are very specific to 1938 – an upturned curve to be the third ‘leg’ of a square neckline.  The late 1930’s frequently borrowed from historical garments for new features, particularly those that were severe or heavily restricting, and this type of curving squared neckline, which was popular in the mid to late 1500s 1, had a widespread use on women’s dresses of 1938.  See this Butterick Spring 1938 news flyer for a small example of this.  Period revivalism combined with modern touches was especially popular with one of Wallis Simpson’s designers, Elsa Schiaparelli – see her designs from winter 1937 to 1938 2 and many are strongly influenced by historic clothing from around the world.  If you read up on history, all that is old become new again at some point, it seems!

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Anyway, this 1938 neckline adaption coordinates perfectly with the likewise arching bust detail.  Wallis’ wedding dress had the exact same upward curving side panel bust gathers!  It is such a lovely, subtle, and slightly-tricky-to-sew touch that I don’t really see that much (whether on an extant garment or pattern).  If you would want to snag your own true copy of Wallis Simpson’s wedding dress, good news if you can sew! There is a reprinted pattern of it as Superior #114 (year 1939) up for purchase here at the Etsy shop “tvpstore”.  Go and drool over it at least, like I did!

Besides the redrawing the neckline change and making the bust gathers, the rest of theDSC_0520a-comp,w dress was a cinch to sew together.  The lines are really simple for the rest of the frock.  I did have to grade up to over the amount I really should have needed, and it’s a good thing I did!  Most 1930’s era patterns I come across run small, besides the fact that a full button front dress cannot be snug, and so I made sure to have extra room rather than too little. I ended up being able to have 5/8 inch seam allowances, rather than the original pattern allowance of 3/8…too little!  The modern sized seams allowed me ‘wiggle’ room to make clean finishing French seams and give myself space (if needed) to take it out if I need to in the future.  I want this baby of a dress to last me a good long while ‘cause I love it!

The cotton print is a rocking awesome re-print of an original 30’s print.  Sadly I do not remember where it was bought.  I do have proof of historic authenticity for it, though – see this original dress, sold over at Dorthea’s Closet Vintage.  Seeing that original dress ‘sold’ me on the idea of actually using this prized fabric which I had been hoarding…I mean saving for the perfect pattern.

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For as cute as the print is with its cheery daises and red contrast, my cotton is not the softest…it is actually quite stiff.  For once, a stiff cotton actually comes in handy!  The stiffness lends itself wonderfully to the puff sleeves and the button front as well as keeping the long princess seams smooth and non-wrinkly.  Anything softer and I would have had to use some powerful interfacing, with would be too noticeable to look great, I would think.  As it was, I used only a small strip of lightweight cotton interfacing down the front buttoning self-plackets and zero supports for the sleeve caps to do their glorious late 30’s obnoxiousness.  I had just enough material, too – 3 ½ yards of fabric to work with, which seems like a lot to me, and I just barely fit all the pattern pieces in on it.  Whew! Talk about making the most of what you have!  This was obviously a serendipitous match of pattern and fabric.

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What do you think about that two-at-a-time button placement?  Now that I see it done, it was worth all the bother, time, and trouble…and boy, was it ever!  It took me 3 hours just to make the buttonholes, cut them open, match them to the other side, and sew the buttons on… all 13 of them.  But like I said, so worth it, so unique!  The buttons themselves are vintage of a mystery era, but amazing nonetheless with their deep-set wells for the stitching spots and the faceted shiny outer edges.  They had been a set that I have been itching to use from the first I set eyes on them from in my Grandmother’s stash.  They make the bits of rich red in the fabric pop a little better.

I know what also adds to the red contrast – my lobster pin!  Again, I’m not sure what vintage era this is from, but the back pin mechanism is so rudely simple, I’m assuming it’s 50’s or older.  I’ve had this as long as I can remember so I don’t know where it came from or who gave it to me.  I’ve always seen it in my jewelry box ever since I first had such a thing.  Finally after all these years of keeping the lobster brooch and having mixed feelings about the combo of weirdness, ugliness, and cute quirkiness of it, I like that I have now found a way to enjoy and wear a time honored piece from my jewelry collection.  I feel it properly ties together the colors, the historical significance dating my outfit, and the ties to famous personas of the past.

1938 Dobbs womens hat trends make headlines & German 1938 vintage millinery adSpeaking of famous persons, too many past Hollywood starlets and fashion designs have included a killer fedora to their ensemble like this one!  And this was so easy to make, and it turned out so well, it is ridiculous.  This pattern is like a hidden gem, because everyone seems to make the View E 1920s style cloche hat (they are all awesome) but I only found one other version of the fedora style on the internet.  It is the perfect style for anything late 1930’s into the early to mid-40’s, and really should be labelled as retro or at least vintage.  Just look at how it matches up to these images from 1938!  Find this pattern for yourself, and please do sew this hat!

The design of the hat is like a hidden surprise.  It wasn’t until I began to make the fedora that I realized its lovely tailoring, something that isn’t even apparent from the line drawing even.  Every panel to the crown is its own specialized piece, cut once, and once sewn together, all of them have an elegant effect of motion by the way the seams are on the diagonal around the brim.  Even the top of the crown adds to the wonderful shaping by being a unique, long, oblong oval.  The brim accommodates to the overall drama by being shortest in the back, short on the one side, and longest in the front – again, very specialized shaping for a lovely final, finished hat.  I did make the front of the brim ½ longer just to make sure to give my face full sun protection.  The pattern doesn’t specify lining the hat, and I didn’t since I wanted my hat to be for the summer.  It didn’t even say to sew an inner sweat band or ribbon or anything to the inside of the crown/brim seam…rather odd.  I merely sewed a wide, cotton, bias band to the crown/brim seam inside for comfort against my head and a clean finish.  I played around with the ribbon placement for quite a long time, and had some bold, different experimental ideas (as many hats of those times had fun, unexpected decoration), but ended up going with a rather basic hat band treatment.

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Part of my success with this hat, I suspect, is the great quality felt I used.  I’m not meaning to brag – I don’t even remember where it came from, it has just been in my stash since I’ve been in this house.  I know it is polyester, at least 1/8 inch thick, but from the look and the feel of it, and the way it holds its shape so well, it acts like a nice wool felt.  Awesome!  This gives me the best of both worlds – and my hat is even crushable and washable yet still holds its shape…believe me, I tested this!  But really, for best results, find a material that has body for this hat, something easy to work with, washable, and that doesn’t need lining to make it oh-so-practical yet stylish at the same time – like mine.  You won’t find that combo with a true vintage hat, and even if you did, you wouldn’t want to treat it like that, so come on, sew up your own fedora!  I love this hat.

There is a tinge of nautical (ahem, cue the lobster, especially) and summer luxury-themed undercurrents to my outfit and our amazing background building for our photos is the icing on the cake!  Listed on the National Register of Historic Places, is was designed by a local architect, Eduoard Mutrux (an apprentice to Frank Lloyd Wright) in 1936 or 1938.  It is a very strong, very odd but wonderful combination of Streamline Moderne and International Style.  This masonry building has all the best of the avant-garde forward thinking that the 1930s did best.  However, this building sneakily looks like a lovely white cruise ship when you go and look at other views, as if it had just moored on the parking lot and been swallowed up by asphalt and ground, with its sweeping front facing the busy street below.

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The Streamline Moderne architectural style is after all about movement merging with stationary objects.  Originally intended to cut down on drag for cars, ships, planes and trains, Streamline Moderne designers and architects wanted a classicism to their buildings so they would last and span the test of time.  This is the kind of buildings you see in all those vintage travel advertisements of the 30’s that are so enchanting and appealing.  Streamline Modern buildings are also almost strictly inspired by movement (visit this Flickr group to see what I mean).  The International style is a friend of stark simplicity – form has to follow function and ornament for its own sake is an outrage…to the point of harsh sterility. Cubical balance and proportion was key, along with white being an important color.  This style of building was rare in Missouri before WWII. International is a major style that re-blossomed in the 1960s as Mid-Century Modern, and it was also the founding idealism for our modern business spaces made of metal and glass!

My sewn outfit is the best of combo of architecture and fashion I could ask for – ornament with a purpose and message, streamline shaping, comfortable practicality, and chic styling which looks good no matter what era it technically originated from.  The light and fun bright colors are perfect for reflecting my current summer mood.  Hello fun!  I have the perfect outfit for you…

Footnote links :  #1.) Detail from Mary Magdalene, 1519.Oostsanen Van (1475-1533); Portrait of a Lady as the Magdalen (Flemish, 16th century); Queen Catherine Parr reproduction gown; and info on sporting carcanet necklaces

#2.) Woman’s Evening Jacket, Designed by Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1937-1938; Silk Cape, Designed Elsa Schiaparelli, Winter 1937; An Elsa Schiaparelli couture black velvet ‘highwayman’ coat, circa 1935

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A Shapely 1962 Sundress

Out of all the fashions, styles, and decades of clothing which I sew, I can only go for so long before the need to make something from the 1960’s makes itself manifest. I do love making and wearing the 1960’s style, and am always so impressed with the patterns and clothes I make with patterns from that decade. Personally, in those patterns I find the styling lines so interesting to the point of impressive and notice the fit from the 60’s to be either difficult or spot on. This unique sundress is one of the best examples of a 60’s – a superbly complimentary fit combined with an unexpectedly rich floral print. This is by far my favorite make for this years’ summer.

100_5595ab-compTHE FACTS:

FABRIC:  a 100% cotton, bought from the quilting section of Hancock Fabrics. The cotton print had the label “Eclectic Elements by Tim Holtz – 2014 Bouquet“ on the selvedge. It is a multi-layered, off-inked mix of flowers – roses, hydrangeas, lilacs, and peonies – in soft but strong colors. The straps are a poly/cotton linen-look fabric, leftover from making my 1931 day dress (see post for that here).100_5653a-comp

NOTIONS:  I only bought a pack of piping. The zipper, thread, bias tape, and a hook-and-eye (for the top zipper closure) were all on hand already.

PATTERN:  McCall’s 6261, year 1962, an “Easy-to-Sew” pattern

TIME TO COMPLETE:  The dress was finished on July 8, 2015, after maybe 15 to 20 hours from start to finish.

THE INSIDES:  Inside, almost every exposed seam is a French seam – just how I like them! Seams that aren’t French are the hems, the neckline (because it’s covered by facing), and the long vertical seam with the piping, which is covered with bias tape.

100_5655-compTOTAL COST:  My total for the fabric on sale and one pack of piping is about $15 to $20.

I love the way the floral print could be uber-feminine to the point of being overwhelming, but this is prevented and softened by being blurred slightly and muted in colors, especially with the contrast dusty olive green of the straps and piping. This is fabric caught my eye as a very close similarity to the dress of the left model on the pattern envelope cover drawing. So, I went along with sewing my look-alike and also picked the same contrast, happy to have an opportunity to use up scraps from my “leftovers” stash. When I use scraps from one project and incorporate them into other projects, I feel like I’m intertwining all my creations, giving them a subtle ‘common ground’. Most of the time, I shy away from copying envelope front model pictures or drawings, after seeing how modern patterns have the worst cover examples of any patterns. However, the vintage pattern’s drawing cover can be so cute and appealing, and I get so tickled when I am able to find a modern look-alike fabric for a vintage one. So, I guess I’m guilty of a lapse in creativity by being a ‘cover copy-cat’, but at least I know then that it’s a true vintage design.

100_5617a-compThere are two bodice options to this pattern – a regular “on the fold” cut bodice, in cut one piece with darts, or an asymmetrical, mock-wrap, princess-seamed bodice, cut in two parts. I chose the two part bodice as it is more unique, offered more interesting creative possibilities, and (as I correctly thought) seemed to have more amazing shaping.

100_5611a-compThe construction steps were adapted and varied a bit from the instruction sheet in order to accommodate adding in the piping trim all the way down the front asymmetric side seam. I did the darts first, of course, but then I sewed the bodice pieces to the skirt pieces and left the top edge facing for last. There was a bit of forethought needed to sew the two different top pieces to the skirt sections and not be totally confused. To understand what I mean here, know that both the front and the back skirt bottom to the dress are made of three sections (six sections in total). Thus, I had to sew both the middle and the left skirt pieces together to attach to the left bodice panel, but the skinny right bodice panel was sewn to a single right panel. The back bodice is one piece, sewn to all three of the back skirt sections joined together. The piping was then sewn in with the asymmetric vertical seam connecting the entire (bodice and skirt) left/center front to the entire right front so the side seams could be stitched for a completed main dress body. Besides the construction order being changed so I could add in piping and a slight downgrade in size, nothing major was altered to the design of the dress according to the pattern.

After sewing my 1944 Easter dress together, I felt very confident and excited about working with piping again, but I did improve on my method of sewing it into a seam. For this project, instead of sandwiching the piping in with the seam and sewing everything all at once (as for the Easter dress), I first sewed down the piping to one side of the fabric at the given seam allowance width. This way the piping was in sturdily place and acting like a “curb” to my final seam with other fabric laid on top.

100_5657-compFor a while, I was on the fence as to whether or not to add piping to the top bodice edge. Hubby helped me reason that it would unify the piping down the front, finish off the edge, and make the green contrast standout more. Since the piping happened to luckily be the exact color match with the fabric for my shoulder straps, I might as well use more of it! With the piping added along the bodice edge, I did not iron or sew on any interfacing to the facing. The only drawback with the piping along the top edge is the fact that the chest size is set for the dress now…it’s not forgiving. My arm and chest muscles can’t get any bigger, but for now, the dress fits, and it’s my summer standby go-to outfit this year!

100_5604a-compIt was a bit a challenge when it came to adding in the side zipper, because all the curving and shaping was in the side seams, instead of in main body dress panels. This is a something I see in 50’s and 60’s patterns, whereas in most 1940’s patterns, which also often have multi-paneled skirts to dresses, the shaping is in the panels that are part of the main body of the garment. (See the patterns for my Mock-wrap ’46 dress and Winter Mint ’42 dress, for two examples for panel shaping, versus my ’50 wrap top or “Whiz-wrap” skirt, for two examples of side seam shaping.) The only main body shaping to my ’62 sundress was at the bust. Speaking of seams, I loved to see how the skirt panels coordinated with the darts for the bodice. Even the straps for the shoulder are sewn on at a vertical match with the bodice darts – what irony…beautiful symmetry paired with asymmetry!

100_5654a-compWould you believe the shoulder straps are actually shaped like a half circle? Check out the pattern back.  This is the ingenious way the pattern resolves design of the straps sewn so far over by the armpits. Usually with straps so far apart, they would slip off the shoulders, and that’s really not a problem on this ’62 dress since these straps deceive the eye and curve in towards the neck to stay put. Smart! I would never have guessed, nor did I think it would work myself, until actually wearing the dress as designed. Vintage patterns always have so much depth and interesting design to offer…more than what meets the eye on the envelope drawing!

Near our house was the perfect setting for an era-appropriate backdrop. There is nothing as appealing to me as an architecturally interesting building, especially one as much loved, well known and local as what people of our town know as the old Buder Branch Library building. (See the B.E.L.T blog page for a handful of links about this building.)  For many years it has been home to The Record Exchange store, which sells used vinyl records, cassettes, movies, and audio/visual equipment, so the whole retro-flashback feel is still alive in this amazing building. It was built in 1961, the year before the date of my dress, and I am always in awe of the graceful, standout Mid-Century Modern style of this building. Just like a well-made garment, the old Buder Branch Building is picturesque and beautiful from any and every angle it’s seen from.

In all, what you see in this post is my perfect warm weather fix…the 60’s era, a sundress, comfy cotton, complimentary shaping, and flowers – everything I love about summer! What can you sew to make your favorite season instantly better than ever?

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Me in front of my favorite summer blossom, the “snowball” bush.